Chances are you’ve heard this ominous-sounding name before — possibly from a mainstream news story a few years ago about Silk Road, or maybe from a Netflix documentary like ‘Don’t F*ck With Cats’. Apart from such examples however, this online criminal underworld simply exists in a hidden part of the World Wide Web where it mostly escapes the attention of day-to-day law-abiding web users.
However, those who work in law enforcement or cyber security are very familiar with the dark web — and the dangers it can pose to their clients and to the public in general. And what many small- and medium-sized business owners don’t realize is how vulnerable they are to the criminals who operate on the dark web.
What is the Dark Web?
In a nutshell, the dark web exists on what’s known as the ‘deep web’ — a part of the World Wide Web that for many reasons is not indexed for search and therefore not discoverable by Google or whatever search engine you prefer. Most of the deep web consists of sites, forms and pages that the owners of which simply haven’t indexed; however, there is nothing illegal about these sites or their content. The dark web, however, is made up of sites and information on the deep web where communication and transactions related to illegal activity take place. This includes the illegal drug and firearms trade, child porn, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism…. Basically, it’s a place where the worst elements of humanity are on full display. The only way to access this information is via a browser like TOR that’s specifically designed to anonymously access the dark web — and in many cases, you’d still need to enter the site’s exact URL or IP address.
How the dark web threatens your business
However, what the mainstream media often doesn’t explain in its coverage of the dark web is that SMEs are a frequent target of the criminals who operate on the dark web. Whenever hackers successfully steal account numbers, private customer data or any kind of proprietary info from a business, it almost inevitably ends up on the dark web. Often, it is offered up for sale — completely anonymously, of course, and purchased equally anonymously using cryptocurrency. Sometimes, however, it is offered up free of charge by self-styled ‘agents of chaos’.
Protecting your business from the dark web
You don’t need to look far to see the damage that a business can suffer — financially and to its reputation — as a result of a data breach. However, most people and businesses have no idea how likely it is that their information has somehow already been exposed on the dark web.
While most SME owners understand the need to protect their systems against viruses, many have no idea why they need to be equally vigilant against dark web-based threats — or how. For starters, here are some of the ways you can protect your business:
- Ensure your company network monitors all outgoing business information and flags any suspicious activity. Your system may employ a firewall to block suspicious incoming traffic, but they often don’t filter outgoing info — which hackers are most likely to steal one small piece at a time to avoid detection.
- Don’t allow any type of dark web browser such as TOR to be installed on any device with access to your company’s network, ever.
- Make sure your website is encrypted with an SSL certificate.
- Perform regular backups of all important files and data. This can be easily automated, so there really is no excuse not to do it.
- Create a disaster recovery plan. Should your network ever fall victim to ransomware, a full system restore will often be the only way to recover.
- Educate employees on cyber security. Breaches often result from phishing or email errors. No matter how comprehensive your cyber security, at the end of the day you’re only as strong as your weakest link — usually the one who uses ‘password’ as their password.
- Use unique passwords and dual-factor authentication (a.k.a. ‘two-step verification’). Using two devices may seem inconvenient, but it will also fend off all but the most elite hackers.
- Invest in cybersecurity insurance.
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